Not Marcos Jr. but the COMELEC on trial

Published December 23, 2021, 12:17 AM

by Diwa C. Guinigundo


Diwa C. Guinigundo

The last bastion of democracy in the Philippines is the civil courts and constitutional commissions which rule on cases brought to their sala. It is crucial  that they keep to their constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law and promote justice in the land.

We should recall that the Philippines was tagged as “suffering from… the militarization of politics” together with India and Sri Lanka, based on the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s (IDEA) The Global State of Democracy 2021.

The report could be prescient on the Philippines with its general observation that many democratic governments are backsliding and are adopting authoritarian tactics by restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law. This is descending to the crass level of state terrorism which our courts should resist. In fact, extra judicial killings have been documented and in more than half of the records reviewed, law enforcement agents were found to have failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene.
Law enforcement is therefore challenged to adhere to the rule of law, rather than participate in the militarization of politics. Otherwise, we would simply see the first attitudinal legacy of an authoritarian regime and this is the internalization of this government’s political line.

The irony is that we have a longer legacy of the rule of law and respect for human rights than Marcos’ military dictatorship in the 1970s and early 1980s, or today’s militarized regime of a copycat. The challenge to the Filipinos today is not to allow the restoration of state terrorism and further slide to an institutionalized authoritarianism that we experienced beginning September 1972.

Younger Filipinos would not have a direct encounter with the ugly face of martial law and the economic devastation it brought to this country, and they cannot learn the lessons of martial law from their school textbooks. They were either purged, glossed over, or even misrepresented as the golden years of the Philippines. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

In order to sustain democracy, International IDEA recommended “embracing more equitable and sustainable social contracts, reforming existing political institutions, and shoring up defenses against democratic backsliding and authoritarianism.”

We should always highlight this challenge and for this, it will be useful to recall what the late Dr. Benito Legarda Jr., one of my predecessors as central bank deputy governor, wrote to UP School of Economics Professor Emeritus Gerardo P. Sicat in response to one of his PhilStar columns. On Sept. 24, 2014 he wrote: “Marcos’ primary mistake was not merely the lack of orderly succession, but the complete destruction of our civil liberties and our constitutional framework, with freedom of speech not only suppressed but independent press entities not only censored but completely shut down and only crony papers permitted, just like the Japanese.”

Thus, the Filipino people are watching intently whether the Commission on Election (COMELEC) would be deciding on Bongbong Marcos’ candidacy based on what the rule of law demands. Seven petitions have been filed for the invalidation of his candidacy. Of these, four petitions wanted him disqualified. Two petitions have asked COMELEC to cancel his certificate of candidacy (COC). One petition would like him declared as a nuisance candidate.

The four parties for disqualification include Bonifacio Ilagan and other martial law victims; Akbayan Citizens Actions Party and other civic leaders; National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Commissioner Abubakar Mangelen; and the Pudno Nga Ilokano. Their petitions were raffled to the First Division of the COMELEC. If they win, Marcos Jr is disqualified but a substitute candidate would be allowed to run in his place.

The two petitions for cancellation of Marcos Jr.’s COC came from Fr. Christian Buenafe of the Task Force Detainee of the Philippines and Fides Lim of KAPATID with counsel Theodore Te. The group argued that Marcos Jr. is not qualified to run because he was convicted by a Quezon City court of multiple failures to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985. Tiburcio Marcos, a presidential candidate himself, claimed that Marcos Jr. is an impostor because he died in the mid-1970s. Three other interventions were also filed including that of Dr. Rommel Bautista through lawyer Howard Calleja who argued that a violation of the Tax Code imposes perpetual disqualification from public office. These were denied as they could “delay” the main petition. These petitions were raffled to the Second Division. If granted, no substitution would be allowed.

The sole petition to declare Marcos Jr. as nuisance candidate was filed by Danilo Lihaylihay, another presidential candidate. He argued that Marcos Jr. put “the election process in mockery…because his purpose was mainly to have his family’s political comeback in Malacañang.” His petition was dismissed.

When the dust settles, and Marcos Jr. is found to be disqualified on principles of law, the COMELEC should deliver the verdict as soon as possible. By all means, it should not allow the threat of state terrorism to sway its decision. If its decision proves right, it will help arrest the withering away of democracy in the Philippines.
It is not Marcos Jr. that is on trial. It is the COMELEC.